November 2008 Vol. 235 No. 11

Features

Permafrost, Pipelines And Politics -- An Incompatible Mixture?

Early in January 2008 Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska approved an application from TransCanada Alaska Co., LLC/Foothills Pipeline, Ltd to build a gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It remains to be seen whether the line, as envisioned, will be built. The project faces several technical challenges, including the requirement that the gas must be chilled to prevent thawing the numerous underlying ice lenses in the permafrost soils. Chilling the gas, while resolving a likely subsidence problem, creates another. A chilled-gas pipeline creates an artificial heat sink that can freeze any water flowing under it. In dangerous, discontinuous permafrost soi

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